Editor’s note: We believe that all birth stories and all birth experiences matter. This post is part of our ongoing series of birth stories featuring a diverse range of women and their birth experiences. Today Angela is sharing some details from her natural, midwife-assisted birth and how it compared to her first delivery with an obstetrician.
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As I’m preparing for the birth of our third baby, I can’t help but look back on my two previous births and compare each experience. With the birth of my eldest, Leslie, it was with an OB. While things went fairly smoothly, I did not get the birth experience I wanted. I did not feel supported during labour, especially with my labour and delivery nurses coming and going. I ended up getting an epidural and episiotomy, and I didn’t get delayed cord clamping as planned.
Whereas with Sophie, I was under the care of a midwifery team, Kristen and Kara, and a midwifery student, Stephanie. I felt supported and informed throughout the pregnancy. I was given options whenever possible, and the pros and cons of each options were explained to me each time a decision needed to be made. Prior to Sophie’s birth, I had decided that I wanted to have a natural birth and was aware of my pain management options.
I woke up in the morning of June 19, 2015, around 5 am having some mild contractions. I was exactly 40 weeks pregnant then. My contractions felt like bad menstrual cramps and didn’t feel too horrible. I tried to time them but they were inconsistent in length and intensity. I stayed in bed and waited until the morning to wake Charles and tell him about my contractions. I had a very light breakfast before calling my midwife at 8 am. Kristen was on call and asked me what I preferred to do. She suggested that we could either wait till the contractions were more consistent before heading to the hospital, or head to the hospital now to start antibiotics IV since I was GBS+.
We decided to meet at the hospital around 8:45 just so that we would have enough time to get antibiotics. I showered quickly and hopped in the car. By this time, my contractions were much stronger which made the car ride incredibly uncomfortable. Every speed bump and every stop at the light gave me so much more pain! Thankfully we only lived about 10 minutes from the hospital.
We parked the car, went through registration, and headed up to Labour and Delivery. Kristen was already waiting for us when we arrived, and it was so comforting to see a familiar face! I remember having my first baby at the same hospital and feeling so nervous and overwhelmed because we didn’t know what to expect. Kristen took us to Triage to get some blood work done and to start the antibiotics.
By 9:30 am, it was clear that I was in active labour and this baby was definitely coming. My contractions were consistent and getting stronger. I slowly made my way to our birthing unit and had to take breaks during this short journey due to my contractions. We got to our birthing unit around 9:50 am. Charles got a (last) picture of me smiling in the room.
For the next hour, my contractions got much stronger and much more unbearable. I asked for a birthing ball to sit on which alleviated some of the pain… for a short while. Then I asked for the TENS machine which helped a great deal. Charles also massaged my lower back during each contraction to help me cope with the pain. When all of this failed, I asked for the laughing gas and was crushed to find out that a valve was missing in the machine and they couldn’t get it to work!
By 11 am, I started begging for an epidural. It felt like I had been in labour for hours, even though I had only been in active labour since about 9 am. Kristen suggested breaking my water to speed things up. It was not pleasant at all! The “breaking” part was pretty straightforward and I felt nothing other than a big gush. But after she broke my water, she did something similar to a stretch and sweep, which was actually painful.
Things progressed very fast after that. The contractions came fast and furious, and super unbearable! I kept on changing into different positions. All fours on top of the bed seemed to help the most. However, even with a “semi-comfortable” position, the labour pain was unbearable. I remember begging for an epidural repeatedly and Kristen kept encouraging me to try different things to help with the pain. She knew that I wanted a natural birth and an early discharge and she really did a remarkable job helping me achieve that.
By noon, I was already in too much pain and started questioning how I would be able to continue to cope with the pain and be able to push this baby out when the time came. Kristen said I was in transition and that the end was almost near… She also said that most people find pushing “easier” than coping with labour pain, because I would be actively doing something. I did not really believe her when she said that, but I also did not really have the energy to argue otherwise.
I continued to ask for an epidural and Kristen suggested I try the birthing tub as the last option before getting one. I remember waddling in pain to the birthing tub in the next room. I climbed into the tub with great difficulty but found instant relief once I was in. The buoyancy of the warm water provided some much needed comfort and support. I am not sure how long I was in the water for, but I remember Stephanie arriving when I was in the tub. I was completely naked in the tub at this point but honestly did not even care. After I was in the tub for a while, I felt the urge to push. Kristen checked my cervix and I was 9.5 cm dilated! Somehow I managed to climb out of the tub, waddle back to my room, and get ready to push.
We tried a few different positions and found the most effective position for me to push was to on my back with my legs supported. It turned out Kristen was right. It was much easier to push than coping with labour pain. I felt like I was at least actively doing something! It felt like I was pushing forever without making any real progress. With every push, Kristen and Stephanie told me that I was doing a good job and I had to keep going. However, Charles’ tone of voice was a real indicator of whether I was doing a good job or not. I could hear the genuine excitement in his voice when I was making some progress.
Another midwife student, Victoria, arrived as I got toward the end of pushing to help monitor the baby. I really got to experience this “ring of fire” people talk about… Kristen and Stephanie were telling me to “push through the pain” and reminding me of how much of the baby’s head they could see then. I remember Kristen telling Charles, who had been very busy taking pictures and videos in the past hour, that the baby was coming within the next push or two. She was right again! One last big push and Sophie’s head was born. One more small push and I felt an instant gush and relief. Sophie’s warm little body plopped right against my chest!
Sophia Christine was born on June 19, 2015, at 2:22 pm. Suddenly all the pain was gone. I was on cloud nine snuggling with my baby girl. She had a loud and strong cry. She also instantly peed and pooped on me when she came out…
I got to do skin-to-skin with Sophie for nearly an hour after she was born. Charles got to cut the cord after it stopped pulsating. The placenta was delivered shortly after, but I do not remember much of it at all because I was busy snuggling with my baby girl. After that, Kristen and Stephanie cleaned and stitched me up as I had a second degree tear.
Victoria monitored Sophie for a bit and then moved onto checking on the placenta. She asked us if we wanted to see it and we said yes without hesitation. It was really cool to see the placenta and umbilical cord! Victoria pointed out each part of the placenta and its function. It was really amazing to see the “tree of life” that had been supporting the growth of our little Sophie the past 40 weeks. Nobody offered to show us the placenta at all with our first. It was interesting to see how different midwifery care was from obstetrics.
Victoria took Sophie away for measurements after we did skin-to-skin for an hour. She measured 7 lb 9.5 oz, and 50 cm long. I nursed her for a little bit after all the newborn checks were done, and then Charles finally got the chance to hold her.
It was also really nice to have three midwives during labour. Charles was able to step away and take tons of pictures and videos to document this wonderful experience. I remember having 3 different L&D nurses who came and left during my labour with Leslie. This birth was entirely different. Both Kristen and Stephanie were familiar faces who had been providing prenatal care in the months leading up to Sophie’s birth. I felt so supported throughout the entire birthing process. It was really nice to have a caregiver I could trust and rely on.
The due date of our third baby is fast approaching. I am not sure how it will go and what kind of experience I will have. I am just glad that I am still under the care of a midwifery team, and I have no doubt that they will be able to support and guide me when the time comes. Right now I am crossing my fingers that this baby will stay put for another few weeks until my mom is able to come and stay with us.